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Here’s why local nonprofit leaders nominate Barra awardees

The Barra Awards. December 11, 2015 Category: Funding
The Barra Foundation does things differently than most philanthropic organizations.

Every other year, some of the most exemplary nonprofits from across Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Philadelphia and Montgomery counties are selected to win grant money from Barra. The awards make up a quarter of Barra’s annual grantmaking, and this year, $2,000,000 will go to 40 organizations in the five-county region.

While the foundation’s board of directors makes the final call on who gets the cash, they’re pulling from a pool of nominees partially hand-picked by a panel nonprofit leaders. It’s called “flow funding.”

President Tina Wahl said the process allows Barra to reach out farther into the community to find organizations they might not otherwise be aware of. The funds are also unrestricted — something Wahl believes to be vital to the nonprofit sector’s health.

“It’s a creative and important way to engage nonprofits in supporting their peers and their work,” Wahl said. “We’re all doing this work together, and it’s a great way for some of the great problem solvers working in our community to support their colleagues also engaging in this important work.”

Having fellow nonprofit leaders select this year’s nominees is a design intended to reel in new organizations with fresh perspective, ensuring the awards cycle doesn’t become — well, stale.

Nonprofits “interact with one another a great deal,” said Antonio Valdes, executive director of Children’s Crisis Treatment Center. Valdes was a 2013 awardee and is a nominator this year. “We interact with each other on an operational level, we even often share staff, we’ve had employees come from one another, and we’ve sat on each other’s boards. Often we’ve had the opportunity really to get to know these other agencies in a much more intimate way.”

Nonprofits that collaborate, Valdes said, have an opportunity to see real innovation in action — how willing an organization might be to take risks or to break through the parameters placed on them by those all-too familiar bureaucratic systems.

“They really are out of the box in their thinking and how they’ve done things,” he said. “They’ve been willing to try new things all the time while never losing focus on their mission.”

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For example: There’s a big difference between organizations that launch initiatives in response to a request for proposal strictly for the extra income, and organizations that are consistently trying new things and might respond to an RFP only if it complements and supports their missions.

And, in turn, those organizations become part of a growing network of impact innovators.

“Being a Barra awardee was a really exciting entrance into the portfolio of really great changemakers,” said Amanda Jefferson, executive director at Summer Search. “Being a Barra nominator is another really exciting entrance into a community of really great changemakers. The people with which I’m sharing the nominator role are really cool, exciting movers and shakers in Philadelphia.”

She said there were three factors in her nomination process: leadership (can they collaborate?), performance (what’s their impact?) and adaptability (can they pivot?).

“In the fast pace of running your own organization, it’s difficult to find time to examine where excellence is happening,” Jefferson said; the flow funding model is in itself a community building process where those involved can share best practices on how to work smarter.

Each organization, spanning arts and culture, education, and health and human services sectors, will receive $50,000 over a two-year period. Check out the 2016-2017 awardees here.

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